Billions of dollars have been invested in research to develop a magic-bullet cure for Alzheimer’s, a heart-wrenching disease that affects more than 5.4 million Americans. Despite the promising announcements that regularly appear in the newsfeed, we remain years – if not decades – away from a pharmaceutical answer to this devastating condition.
For those of us on the front lines, what makes this situation frustrating is the simple knowledge that Alzheimer’s disease is largely preventable. Research published in top peer-reviewed scientific journals shows that lifestyle choices play a powerful role in determining who does and does not end up with Alzheimer’s dementia.
Here are three of the most important things you can do, starting now:
- Lower your blood sugar.
Elevated blood sugar is profoundly toxic to the brain. Type 2 diabetes, now affecting approximately 29 million Americans, is associated with more than doubling the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the development of “tangles” within the brain itself, that represent the harbinger of Alzheimer’s to come. Even without becoming a diabetic, just having mild elevation of blood sugar also sets the stage for dementia, as was recently described in the New England Journal of Medicine.
The simplest way to lower your sugar level is to lower your sugar intake. Cutting sugar and carbohydrates from your diet, while at the same time bumping up your consumption of healthful fats and fiber, are surefire ways to gain control over your blood sugar and directly reduce your risk for Alzheimer’s disease.
- Get aerobic exercise.
We all feel good when we get some exercise, but, as was recently demonstrated by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, aerobic exercise actually changes our gene expression. It activates genes that go on to create a specific growth hormone for the brain called BDNF. Having higher BDNF stimulates the growth of new brain cells in the brain’s memory center, and is associated with a dramatic reduction in the risk for Alzheimer’s disease, as was recently reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
- Take DHA.
DHA, the omega-3 found in fish, fish oils, and to a lesser extent in grass-fed beef, also enhances BDNF production. Research at Rush University Medical Center has demonstrated much less likelihood of getting Alzheimer’s disease in folks having both the highest consumption of DHA, as well as the highest blood levels of this important omega-3.
The time to start thinking about your brain function is now. You don’t want to wait until it’s too late to implement these changes. The medical proof is there – the only thing stopping you from changing your lifestyle and health habits is you!
By James Haley, M.D., contributing writer and double board certified OB/GYN and urogynecologist with Cherokee Women’s Health Specialists.